Saturday, November 26, 2011

A piece of Cochin on a wall at Ben Gurion Airport

By Bala Menon

Earlier this week, as I was riding a walkway in Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, to catch my return flight to Toronto, I saw a wall full of art depicting the Jewish Diaspora. I stepped off the walkway onto the corridor to admire the pictures. There were scores of them - big, glorious pictures highlighting Jewish history and heritage from around the world. And there suddenly in front of me was a vivid Cochini connection to modern Israel!
A  bold, brown photograph titled "Panel of the Holy Ark  Cochin Synagogue." A sign on the wall said all the pictures on show were of original artifacts now on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The Ark from Paravur at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
The picture is of the panels on the Ark of the Paravur Synagogue (from the former Kingdom of Travancore) - and which is now in the Israel Museum along with the Paravur bimah (pulpit), adorning the exhibit depicting the interior of the Kadavumbhagam Synagogue of Mattancherry in Cochin -  built in 1544. (It's a little mixed up, really!) The synagogue interior was restored in 1991.  Work is, of course, fast nearing completion on the restoration of the Paravur Synagogue  (see my earlier blog)  and local Kerala craftsmen have used pictures of this panel and other pieces to create a new Ark for the synagogue.
The airport is located 12 miles southeast of Tel Aviv and 31 miles west of Jerusalem and was formerly known as Wilhelma Airport during the British Mandate and later as RAF Station Lydda. In 1973, it was renamed in memory of David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. (Ben Gurion was also an ardent supporter of Cochinis during their aliyah and was a frequent visitor to their many settlements in Israel). The centrepiece of the elegant Terminal 3 where passengers wait for their flights is the star-shaped rotunda, ringed with cafes, restaurants and duty-free shops.
The rotunda in the departure lounge in Terminal 3 of Ben Gurion International Airport. Pics by Bala Menon